Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two Windows on My Life

"There's one," said the woman riding shotgun, pointing.

The driver raced up to the open spot, turned wide, then braked as a sign came into view. "Rideshare only."

"We're a rideshare," shotgun woman said.

"But a permit is required."

All four women in the car responded in unison with a disappointed "Oh."

"Before Al-Anon, I would have taken that spot, no problem," the driver said.

"Before Al-Anon, I would have judged you for that," said the woman sitting next to me in the back seat.

We all laughed.

That was yesterday, on the way to the prison volunteer potluck. Three of us were brand new to the prison program and still trying to get our requirements done. So we stopped by the prison to take care of some business. Being Saturday, the parking lot was full.

Something about that insignificant exchange made me think of my first Al-Anon meeting. Two women were having a conversation about buying hand towels. They were laughing at themselves.

Is that the biggest problem these women have?, I wondered. My problems were serious. My daughter was in all sorts of trouble. These people would never understand. I was different from them.

What I saw then as women who made a big deal out of trifles, I see now as evidence of the success of the program. The fact that I was able to relate to and laugh with the women in the car showed how far I had come.

I got a glimpse of the old me last night over dinner. My husband and I invited a neighbor out with us to get a burger. His wife had just flown to Seattle to help one of their sons. Our neighbor was sad and distracted. He had hardly slept. His attention wandered. He apologized. He couldn't help but wonder what his wife and son were doing.

His wife might have to be in Seattle for a week. She might lose her job as a result. That was okay. They'd learn to live without that income if her employer couldn't understand the situation. His wife had told him that he might need to fly out, too. And maybe their other son.

Before Al-Anon, that was me. I got on a plane at the drop of a hat. I spent lots of money trying to fix things. I didn't sleep well. I obsessed. And yet, nothing changed. I'd put out one crisis and other would pop up. But I would do anything to alleviate the guilt I felt over my daughter's unhappiness. The cycle would begin again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I was miserable. I couldn't enjoy my own life. And I wasn't doing anyone a bit of good.

Today, I understand that everyone in the rooms of Al-Anon could tell a story to break your heart. So could I. But I no longer feel the need to. I'm happy to talk about hand towels and parking spaces and life's other trivia. Key words: I am happy. Because in Al-Anon, I've learned tools to deal with this family disease. I learned to face calamity with serenity. (At least on the best days.)

The dynamic of an alcoholic home is that the alcoholic/addict acts and other family members react. It becomes a game of tug of war. Al-Anon teaches me to drop the rope.

Sometimes, this makes the alcoholic/addict uncomfortable enough to get help. Often, he or she needs to go through more pain before becoming willing to try a different way. That was true of my daughter.

But by constantly putting a pillow underneath my daughter to cushion her fall, I kept her from feeling the consequences of her actions. I just prolonged the process.

My daughter's life has not improved since I came into Al-Anon. In many ways, her situation is much worse. She found other enablers. But today I know that I am powerless to help her. That this is not my problem to fix. Yet somehow, our relationship is better for it.

Yesterday, after the potluck, we pulled into the parking lot where we had all met earlier that morning. I was sitting in the back seat. The other woman in back got out and left her empty Starbucks cup in the cup holder. I almost said something, but held my tongue. Then I started to grab for the cup because a) it seemed rude to leave it and b) I was afraid the driver might think it was mine and think badly of me.

Funny thing was, the woman who left it was the one who had said she'd have judged the driver for taking that parking spot, and now I was judging her. Then I remembered something we had said earlier: "If it doesn't have your name on it, don't pick it up."

I left the cup, got out of the car. I couldn't help but laugh.


  1. Great writing. I so like it that you can say you are happy. Things are not so good for your daughter but you are able to live you life and take care of yourself and mind your own business and still love your daughter. That says so much that you left the cup in the car. So much.

  2. You wrote, "She found other enablers. But today I know that I am powerless to help her."

    My daughter did that for awhile and others got tired of helping her; and she had to get stronger on her own in the long run.

    Funny, how adapt they are in finding others to enable them... sometimes for a life time..

    You sound great. The adventure of volunteering is interesting.. I hope you keep us updated..

    Betty Ann :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this story.
    Did you say we live near each other?
    This is my email
    I am looking for a meeting to go to.
    thank you again

  4. Wonderful post.

    I was caught by the word "react".
    This is something that has been a goal of mine, to learn to live "actively" instead of "reactively."

  5. Kathy,
    I love this....if it doesn't have your name on it. Don't pick it up. That could go for emotions, too. I don't have to pick up anyone's guilt or shame either. Woo! Hoo!
    I don't attend al anon right now, but I like reading your posts. It like an online meeting.

  6. I can totally relate to this posting! And I love what you wrote about "If it doesn't have your name on it, don't pick it up." (I'm still finding myself pulled into the concern that the driver would think it was yours! Oh, the concern!) I am tempted to write a long detailed account of similar things I've been working through in my own life - today even. But instead I will just say that I am one more person discovering a new, better way of life through Al-Anon. God bless.

  7. This really spoke to me. Thank you.

  8. This is so well written that I'm printing it out. I absolutely love every word. To even dream that this is a possibility, being happy in spite of addiction, used to be inconceivable to me.

  9. Great piece of writing once again Kathy. Nice insight. It seems a few of us have reacted to the line, 'if it doesn't have your name on it, don't pick it up'. Isn't that the hardest thing in the world not to do? To not pick it up.
    It's funny, I have been sitting listening in the Al-anon meetings, being impatient, thinking 'Come on people, I need something to happen now, I need all the steps NOW, I need my recovery NOW' and I just couldn't understand when this lady talked about this peace she found being at the meetings. I thought she was out of her head? But I see, on some level, that for once I have to take my time and let the healing take its time.

  10. i can really relate to this post. thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.

    this part especially rang a bell for me:

    "Today, I understand that everyone in the rooms of Al-Anon could tell a story to break your heart. So could I. But I no longer feel the need to."

    i used to think other people around me were shallow or their lives must not have terrible things happening if they weren't talking about it. i felt so alone growing up in my family and isolated around my peers who i assumed had it great.

    i just wrote about this actually also. so it's neat to see my thoughts reinforced by reading your story. i loved your story about the cup. so great! and made me smile, which i always appreciate getting to do. thank you~

    i'm happy for you that you are seeing such progress in your life :)

  11. another favorite of mine! thanks for adding this to the carnival too. i see that the same line that struck me before that i mentioned in my previous comment, struck me today too. still torn between feeling stuck in the past and wanting to be past feeling the need to talk about it. thanks again! :) hugs~~~